I enjoy my visits to the barbershop for a variety of reasons. The more practical reason is to get a good haircut, but if you limit your experience to the utilitarian purpose of walking away with shorter hair, you will surely miss out on a treasure trove of cultural edification awaiting. In other words, hold onto your hat, things might just get a little hairy.
It was on the rainy morning that I returned to the Second Street Barber Shop in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina — a two-seat shop where Gary and his son Josh Beshears spend their days keeping many of the residents of their community neat and tight.
News coverage of the rage of Hurricane Irma was on the TV and both barber seats were busy when I arrived. The barbershop is the perfect place for a storyteller to hang out and for those who prefer to listen it’s hard to find a better show. Barbershop storytelling is judged more so on delivery rather than verifiable facts. While a good tall tale is welcome and celebrated the more weighted issues of life are also part of conversation.
One customer was sharing the story of a recent heart problem that has changed his life. We all celebrated with him in that his only real vice to battle is a half gallon of ice cream every night. This real-life issue was talked about, but before long things shifted to the story of barber Josh as a young boy in school, when he wrote a story about Peggy the witch who lived in a shack on the side the mountain.
As the story goes, Gary takes young Josh on an adventure to the Big Ivy area, which is near the Wilkes and Ashe county line, to learn about the legend of Peggy the witch, who apparently once lived in the region in the late 1800s and possessed the ability to do many things, including shapeshifting into the form of various animals.
At a certain point in the trip, Gary spots his pick-up near Phillip’s Gap and yells out the window, “Peggy,” and as if on cue a deer walks out of the woods and stands in the road in front of them and stairs at Gary and Josh, but did not come close to them and then walked away. Gary drives on, however Josh wants to see if it will happen again.
At first Gary did not want to call out again, Josh was persistent so Gary stopped again and yelled out Peggy. Once again, as if on cue, a groundhog appeared in the road in front of them, stared at them and then walked away. This happened again with a rabbit. It was at this time they decided not to call for Peggy again.
Josh and Gary both told me that this was a true story regarding the animals. Josh wrote the story down with more history about Peggy. The story of the animals and other stories of fear and dread that Peggy stirred in other locals was published in the book, “Hometown Memories, Blue Ridge Tales,” on pages 64-65.
The good thing about waiting for the barber’s chair is that you get to hear all the great stories and you know it will soon be your turn for an old-fashioned haircut, including warm shaving cream on your neck with a straight razor perfect line. You also have a chance to share your tale of the day and if you need it, you’ve got a few pals who will listen when you need it most.
When done, my seat was filled by a N.C. Army Guardsman. He required a simple shave, but at the Second Street Barber Shop a quick visit is not really an option. The stories take too long, and who would want to rush something so important?
When folk artist Charlie Frye heard this story, he was inspired to create a painting to accompany this column. Thanks Charlie!